In response to the Autumn Statement Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell whacked out a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book and threw it to George Osborne, in a bizarre act designed to highlight China’s involvement in the Tory’s escalating privatisation drive. This has drawn McDonnell much criticism from left and right, but this certainly isn’t the first time Mao has been whacked out by politicians in Westminster.
Indeed a while back Nick Clegg revealed there is a “maoist tendency” to the SNP, is there indeed the possibility of peasant uprising in the Highlands. Should we be looking north to Crofters for true revolutionary leadership?
But if we look a little further back we find yet another Lib Dem drawing comparisons to Maoist China. In 2010 Cable was secretly recorded by the Daily Telegraph accusing the Tories of trying to instigate a “Maoist revolution” in various policy areas “like the health service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff”, a view later echoed by others including Labour’s then Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt. Cable had even gone so far as stating the abolition of Regional Development Agencies and replacement with Local Enterprise Partnerships was “Maoist and chaotic”. In January 2015 Clegg again pulled out the Maoist line, this time labelling the Tory’s child benefit cuts as akin to Mao’s one-child policy. Similarly in an official speech, Nick Gibb, Minister for School Reform, declared the aim of recent education reforms was to “Let a thousand flowers bloom.”
In fact, a cursory look through Hansard – the official record of everything said in Parliament – shows the hundreds of times in recent years that parliamentarians have slipped in a Mao quote or directly compared their opponents policies to Maoist China. My own rough analysis shows the majority of these were said by Tories.
But, weirdly, it looks like McDonnell may have been taking a leaf out of Tory MP Dan Myles’ book [sorry, I couldn’t resist]. In 2010 Myles, in an incredible display of open support for The Great Helmsman, pulled out a copy of the Little Red Book in Prime Minister’s Questions before quoting directly – “Thrift should be the guiding principle in our government expenditure” – arguing that Mao Tse Tung would have supported the Coalition’s austerity measures. Myles even boasted of the affair at the time on his constituency website.
I’m not sure what conclusions we can reach other than the obvious – UK parliamentarians have a weird obsession with Mao.